Stunning Beauty of Andalusia's Wild West Still Drawing Crowds


Yucca City in Tabernas, Spain // (c) 2011 Gordito1869/Wikipedia

dpa, Berlin, June 28, 2011
By Manuel Meyer

TABERNAS, Spain -- The Desert of Tabernas located in the Spanish province of Almeria may be Europe's only desert but it's probably best known as the location used for director Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns.

It is easy to see why Tabernas was chosen by Leone and other directors as the desert with its 3,000 hours of annual sunshine and sparse vegetation has marked similarities with North American deserts.

Leone used the desert as the location for the Clint Eastwood westerns "A Fistful of Dollars," "For a Few Dollars More," and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." In addition, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," "Cleopatra" and "Lawrence of Arabia" all did location shooting in the area.

In fact, over 270 films have been shot on location here in what has long been considered one of the most unknown deserts of the world. However, it's now slowly becoming every more popular with tourists.

Jesus Lopez has worked as a stuntman on many films shot in Tabernas but now also makes his living by re-enacting western movie scenes with his former work colleagues for tourists.

The show takes place at Fort Bravo, a western town theme park located a couple of kilometres away from Tabernas village which was one of several sets originally built by Leone. The town includes a saloon, a jail, shops, stables, a church and a bank as well as Fort Bravo itself.

Mini Hollywood in Oasys is where Leone shot much of his epic "Once Upon a Time in the West" starring Henry Fonda and Claudia Cardinale.

There is a small museum housing camera equipment and memorabilia while the ranch used in the movie can be visited. Visitors can also watch daily shoot-outs and there is even a small zoo.

During a guided jeep tour of Tabernas, Cristina Serena from Malcamino's, a film production company that also specialises in tours, explains why so many films were shot here on the Mediterranean coast near Almeria.

"Tabernas is the perfect cheap alternative to filming in a North American desert," she says.

The jeep is driven along dried out riverbeds and over rough and rocky terrain to the edge of deep canyons.

The group are shown photos from original movie sets at their original sites along the way while Serena also explains the unique geology of the area, which makes it not only a perfect cinematic location but also a paradise for walkers and nature lovers.

Tabernas is subject only to sparse rainfall which is usually torrential. There is little vegetation and the soil is unable to retain moisture, which has led to erosion and the forming of the characteristic badlands landscape.

If a 4x4 jeep tour isn't the way you want to see the desert, then try some of the interesting half- or full-day walks that take in some or most of the movie locations.